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Friday, 3 June 2011

The Brutality of Reality

“What are these white bits that keep appearing on my arm?” I pondered from time to time when I happened to look down at my exposed arms. I was already weary of the little flies that seemed intent on biting my apparently tasty skin. These tiny little white-ish lumps were inanimate though. They appeared sporadically and even when I brushed them off, more appeared. Where were they coming from? The answer came shortly after I took over from my friend holding up the sack of meat. First I felt the tiny shards of bone hitting my arm, then my face and then landing in my hair. I also occasionally felt little bits of cow accompany the spray of bone. This horizontal shower of bone and meat was accompanied by the constant shrill sound of the band saw cutting through the 120kg of cow carcass.

I find myself standing in the back of a butcher, helping the butcher cut up the carcass of the cow that just yesterday had a heartbeat. Thankfully I wasn’t around for the murder but I suspect it was pretty grime. The cow belongs to a friend who has bought it to supply meat to a group of visitors who will shortly arrive in Chikuni. There are four legs and the ribcage to be cut up. We start with the legs; firstly the hooves gets cut off and then the butcher starts cutting from the top of the leg so that we get the fillet first. The sensation of being hit by bits of cow, thrown off by the speeding blade of the band saw, as you might imagine is unpleasant to say the least. In fact my skin crawls each time I feel a new bit land. I look down to find bits clinging to my tshirt and run my hand through my hair to remove fresh debris. The only thing I can really do is laugh at the absurdity of the experience. Once again I am reminded that my time here in Zambia is a once in a lifetime experience and that my life here is just so unbelievably and utterly different from everything I have lived through before.

At one point the power goes out. We are plunged into semi darkness and the band saw grinds to a halt. I look at my friend and we smile, Murphys Law! All we can do is wait and hope that it comes back quickly. There is still a full leg and the main body to process not to mention the in-progress leg. After five minutes the power comes back and we get back to business. Twenty minutes later though, the blade of the band saw snaps loudly and clangs against the inside of the machines body. Everyone except the butcher jumps and scatters at the sound. He turns the machine off and opens up the machine. The inside of the walls are pasted with the same tiny bits of flesh that have been bombarding me. The only difference is that the layer of meat is about one and a half centimetres thick; I shudder and wonder how often the machine is cleaned. The butcher goes to get another blade and we wait to resume the fun.

Many I'm a long way from home and any reality I knewthoughts go through my head as the work progresses. I remember being a child and happily watching the family butcher, Mr. Bresnan, chopping meat in the back half of his shop while my mum or dad bought the weekly supply of meat. I remember his shiny band saw and the handsaws and knives. I remember watching the skilled staff slice through the meat as if it was a knife through butter. There is none of that here though. There is no notion of choice cuts and neither knife nor handsaw made an appearance for the two hour stint I spent in the butchers. The only thing that seemed to get done properly was the T-bone. I never knew that it came from the top of the ribcage and the ‘T’ is essentially part of the spine. I also thought about the day in school when Billy Murphy chopped his finger of using a band saw in woodwork and the raucous that ensured there after. I also thought about an ex-lovers beloved cows and how they face the same fate as the poor retch in front of me.

As a confirmed carnivore I am well aware of the fate of many an innocent animal for the gratification of my taste buds but I am always amazed at how well my mind can abstract away the process of turning docile, soft eyed, grass eating cows into delicious, bloody streak for my eating pleasure. This is the brutal reality of eating meat and I can live with that, just about. I will spare you the more gruesome details of the days events but in many ways, the butcher was the least gruesome experience of the day. The shower at the end of the day was not just necessary to stay clean, it was necessary to stay sane and feel like I no longer had bits of cow all over me. Now I just hope I get to taste some of the spoils of the days labour.

Your reporter in the middle of nowhere

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